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Saturday, April 09, 2005

Angelina Jolie on your Cellphone Anyone?

By: Robert Armstrong
The titanic developments in new technology have radically
changed the way we watch TV and movies at home. Gone are the
days when the TV set was a box in the corner with a 20in screen
and a tinny speaker. Now most of us prefer to watch movies and
sports casts on a widescreen that’s at least 28in from corner to
corner. If you are a fan of home theater then that screen will
almost certainly be bigger and be accompanied by a surround
sound speaker system to maximise the aural effect and immerse
you in the action. As technology improves and equipment becomes
cheaper, more and more people will have high definition TVs and
home theater set-ups.

However, if Sony has its way, we’ll all be enjoying a completely
different movie-watching experience, on a 2inch mobile phone
screen. Sony wants to see an iTunes-style download service for
movies so we can download them and watch them on the move. Would you watch a film on a cellphone? I wouldn’t. (continued...)

Imagine it. Out would go the immersive, involving experience of
the movie theater that we’ve tried so hard to create at home,
and in its place would be a screen so small that it would be
difficult to make out what was going on. That in itself would
create a dilemma for film-makers. If a sizeable number of people
who pay to see a movie do so by downloading it on their mobile,
will directors have to take this into account when making it?
Will studios reject cuts because they contain too many subtle
facial expressions or movements that can’t be detected on a tiny
screen? Will the muted colors of a Saving Private Ryan have to
replaced with more lurid and brightly colored scenes to make
them more easily visible on a cellphone?

And what of the audio? Is their any point in spending time and
money developing a detailed and textured surround-sound
experience if a significant portion of your audience will be
listening on earbuds while travelling on a train?

These examples may be extreme, but they do highlight the
differences between the way a music download service works and
the way a movie download service would. Music, by its nature, is
immensely portable. OK, the sound quality from an iPod over a
pair of earbuds may be nothing compared to that from a decent
hi-fi set-up, but for most people most of the time, it’s a close
enough approximation. That won’t be the case with movies. Why
did those tiny, battery powered, pocket TVs never really
take-off? For the same reason.

Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, who knows a thing or two about the movie
industry through his stewardship of Pixar, has often said that
he’s not interested in producing a video iPod because no-one
wants to watch movies on a small screen. Jobs is right about
most things, and I think he’s right about that. Sony disagrees.
It will be interesting to see who’s right.

About the author:
Robert Armstrong is a contributor to The HDTV Tuner- a guide to the kit, the technology and the programming on HDTV.

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